Pathetic fallacy crops up quite a bit in literature, when stormy weather reflects the internal tensions of the characters, or the dramatic nature of the plot. Occasionally it does the same in real life. When Paul Keating challenged Bob Hawke the first time, Canberra was plunged into a peasouper of a fog that shrouded the capital in a thick pall of gray. And last night, Canberra’s spring weather had turned feral, with rain, high wind and the occasional storm. Perfect for a leadership contest.

Within Parliament House, not much betrayed the fact that, throughout the building, Liberals were convening meetings and hitting the phones to work out who was backing whom. The corridors were mostly empty — Andrew Robb was one of the few abroad after dinner – and in the external corridors the gentle patter of rain on the glass was the only sound above the dull drone of the airconditioning. Cabinet had met and dispersed — Wayne Swan gave a press conference on Lehman Brothers, declaring that he would keep it brief because he knew we were busy – and the executive wing was quiet with the contentment that comes from knowing one’s opponents are in disarray. In the Press Gallery, journalists who had gone home were rushing back in, clutching their dinner, then hitting the phones.

And in the middle of it all, there was the realisation that Peter Costello no longer mattered. He missed Parliament yesterday due to a funeral, and today is his book launch. Until yesterday, it was the big event of the week. Now it’s a sideshow. There’ll be a few senior journalists who give Costello a miss tomorrow in preference to examining the outcome of the leadership contest. Suddenly he’s yesterday’s man, and not before time.

On the weekend, Nelson was telling senior colleagues that he wasn’t going to tolerate being undermined anymore. He was likely planning the spill then, or earlier, but kept it a closely-guarded secret. Whether his gamble pays off or not will be known tomorrow morning, at a meeting starting at 9am. Journalists will congregate outside the Liberal party room en masse and await the outcome, probably delivered by text from an MP’s phone to a preferred journo before the official announcement. I suggested to one Liberal that there should be a puff of white smoke when the vote was finished. “That’ll be me going outside for a cigarette,” they said.

Meantime, the Government gets on with governing. They’ll be hoping for a Nelson victory. That will suit them just fine, particularly after his effort waving cans of beans around yesterday. The Prime Minister has started referring to him as the “Member for Bradfield” rather than his proper Parliamentary title. He knows Nelson is no threat. Turnbull, on the other hand — well, you just don’t know.

And outside, the wind continues blowing a gale.

Peter Fray

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